"Easy Money" is a debut crime novel from Jens Lapidus, billed as one of Sweden's most successful criminal defense lawyers, and, on the basis of this book, one of the best acquainted with Stockholm's underworld. It's a new entry in the sweepstakes to follow the phenomenal international success of Stieg Larsson, the superb Scandinavian thriller author, who gave us The Millennium Trilogy before his untimely death. EASY MONEY has received high praise from various Euro critics and high praise indeed from James Ellroy, one of the deans of hard-boiled American mysteries, who wrote, "At last, an epic European thriller to rival the Stieg Larsson books. It's an entirely new criminal world, beautifully rendered - and a wildly thrilling novel."
Lapidus's novel is set in Stockholm's underworld, where cocaine rules, and is told from the perspective of its mob bosses, patsies and thugs. It centers on three men. JW is of humble rural stock, but has managed to crash a rich, chic party crowd: now, if only he had the money to run freely with them. When he's offered the chance to sell cocaine to this crowd, he grabs it. Jorge, a young drug dealer of Chilean origin, has just succeeded in a celebrated breakout from jail, and wants revenge against those who put him there. JW's boss is anxious to recruit Jorge to widen his territory, and sets JW on the Latino's trail. But so is Mrado, brutal muscle in the high on the food chain Yugoslav gang that put Jorge inside in the first place. These three anti-heroes combine and recombine, all seeking their places in the sun.
The novel is written in a language slangy, fast-paced, and telegraphic enough to rival Ellroy's. But, whereas I, like many Americans, have some familiarity with Los Angeles, where Ellroy sets his work, I know very little about Sweden, Yugoslavia, or Chile, and I didn't always know what Lapidus was talking about. Lapidus's writing or perhaps his translator's also has an odd tic: over and over, often several times in a page, he uses a clumsy contraction that I'm not sure exists in English: "Jorge'd,"for, I gather, "Jorge had." This set me into mental gymnastics every time, as I was busy remembering the Latin pronunciation of "Jorge," and then I had to tag the "'d" on its end. A true mental tongue-twister. Furthermore, I found the book to be testosterone-soaked: in its pages, women exist solely for sex and the delivery of children. It often reminded me that the first, Swedish title of Larsson's first book, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. It sometimes seemed to me that I kept reading this long book only because it had opened on a woman's abuse, and I was anxious to find out what had become of her; information that wasn't shared until nearly the end of the book's more than 450 pages. However, the book does finally arrive at a fairly exciting, powerful conclusion.
Come to Scandinavian mysteries, I go back beyond the Martin Beck Mystery Series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Lapidus has got something here, but I'm not sure what. However, I would be willing to give him another try.
The clue is in the title - Easy Money - and the book revolves around three main characters who are after it. Jorge, the Latino, is out for revenge on the Serbian big players in the coke dealing business after being the fall guy in a police raid. Mrado, the Serbian, is the ruthless hit man under pressure from his boss to increase sales and expand the territory of their cocaine empire and protection rackets. Finally, there is JW, a home-grown student just starting out in the business of pushing C as a means to keep up with his well-heeled friends and impress the rich girl he desires so much.
This book describes scenes of explicit violence and the language is what you would expect from characters immersed in drug dealing, prostitution, shake-downs etc. I enjoyed Lapidus' style of writing, his sentences and dialogue are short and sharp. Lapidus assumes that the reader will make the connection between words without spelling out the meaning. I felt that the dialogue, action and plots were authentic and although the characters are low-life and not deserving of the reader's sympathy, I was still riveted in the plot and eager to know what happened next.
If you don't mind bad language in a credible tale about the criminal classes of Stockholm and you enjoy a racy plot about violent gangs and heart-breaking sub-plots about young women in modern day slavery, then this is for you. This is not a book in the style of Jo Nesbo - and I really like Jo Nesbo - but it is equally good in a more hard-hitting, graphic style.
There's a lot to be critical about with this book and I`m not surprised that there are negative reviews on this page.
There isn't one likeable character in the whole novel; there are some sympathetic elements to each of the three main characters who lead each strand of this multi-layered, interwoven storyline, but these are heavily outweighed by their motivations - greed, revenge, power. They are damaged, but ruthless young men with little regard for the effects or consequences of their actions - classic gangster typecasting, which has a long literary and cinematic history in fiction.
Jens Lapidus is clearly in thrall of James Ellroy, utilising that author's abrupt, short sentence structure; unfortunately Lapidus and his translator have chosen to pander quite shamelessly to the American market - everything from slang, description and spelling is skewed into US English - with grating, intermittent use of faux-hip-hop phraseology. Still, it would be naive to ignore the fact that virtually all global youth cultures adapt this form to their own street-language, though probably not as wholesale as this book suggests. Only the geographic references and the occasional inclusion of Swedish brands or pop culture reminds the reader this is set in a Nordic country.
Hip-hop inspired gangsterism has an undeniable influence here; the novel bombards the reader with the protagonists lust for conspicuous consumption, brand-names, relentless macho posing, incipient misogyny, respect through fear - even though each character is from a different strata of the criminal pyramid, the poverty of their material aspirations blinkers their vision, no matter how intelligent or cunning they are. The Serbian gangsters are older, more Mafiosi-like in their attitude, but just as callously myopic.
If you are prepared to take the leap of faith and accept the author's idiom, there is a carefully constructed, well-paced and gripping narrative unfolding within; Lapidus not only shines a light on the criminal immigrant under-class; through his character J.W. we see that the dissolute wealthy classes are complicit in the success of organised crime. There are themes and elements here that other Nordic writers have certainly touched upon, but this is the first novel I`ve read to take a cold, hard look at the social failures and criminal activities of the underworld of a key Scandinavian country, and much of it rings true; they have problems with class, race, inequality and organised crime just like the rest of Europe - they `re just not good at admitting it.
This is a flawed novel, but as part of a trilogy - the other two volumes have yet to be translated - I think it would be wrong to make too harsh a judgement without knowing where they may lead.
As it is, this is a good read on its own terms; bold, chillingly stark in its portrayal of modern Sweden and with a brutal rawness that echoes American cutting-edge Noir fiction, but - I think - it stands out mainly because of where it is set.
If you enjoy the more conventional Scandinavian literary style of Mankell or Larsson this will disappoint you; if you like - for example - Camilla Läckberg, don`t even consider picking this up, you'll hate it.
Easy Money is Jens Lapidus' debut novel but it doesn't show. Well written and gritty, I wasn't immediately comfortable with its graphic, no punches pulled approach to depicting Sweden's criminal underworld, but the writing style drew me in and I rattled through the book in a few short days on holiday.
Jens' experience as a criminal defence lawyer has clearly stood him in good stead, allowing him to write a convincing story that develops briskly from the first chapter. Although the first of a trilogy, this book manages to conclude well - though not as well as if it were a one-off - and sets up some plot lines for the second of the three books.
This is not a book for the faint hearted, nor those who would prefer that the world didn't include venal, violent career criminals with few, if any saving graces. This is a book about those people, which should come as no surprise, because the cover is pretty clear about the subject matter.
The cover also tries to link this to Steig Larsson's Tattoo trilogy and to James Ellroy's work, which readers who have read much Crime fiction will surely have encountered. The only similarities to the Millenium trilogy are that "Easy Money" is the first of three and written by a Scandinavian author - otherwise this is a completely different experience. The Ellroy comparison is much more appropriate, as it is clear that Lapidus (and his translator?) are big fans of Ellroy's staccato writing atyle.
And therein lies the problem with this book - it's about repellant characters, and written in a style which, at times, makes it hard to grasp the plotline. There's no humour, and I don't mean not much, I mean none, to lighten the oppressive tone, as gangsters jockey for supremacy and those lower down the criminal ladder scheme and plan to ascend. All that said, the plot is a good one, well drawn together, if a little lacking in pace sometimes. The 3 main characters stories are increasingly intertwined, and even if you guess elements of the final resolution, it doesn't lessen it's impact.
If you have read and enjoyed Ellroy, you will probably enjoy this. If you can get past the fact that the characters are relentlessly unsymapathetic, you might enjoy this - otherwise, you'll probably think this is too long, too violent or just simply too difficult to read.
An acquired taste I think.
This book is about drugs, prostitution, people smuggling, extortion rackets, gangs and violence. There are numerous references to the Balkans war and I wonder if this war bred the violence into the men or maybe the war was so bloody because a lot of violent men took part.
My image of Sweden with its blonde blue eyed Abba types was completely shattered by the violent gangs that seem to rule, certainly in Stockholm. Perhaps it is like it everywhere and I am just naive. The gangs fall into mobs from abroad, motorcycle and some created in prison but they are all extremely violent.
Sweden itself is portrayed as a big brother state where you can't even buy a car without it being flagged by the authorities. One piece refers to metal detectors, at airports, being able to identify large quantities of banknotes by the metal strips.
The other thing that comes through is the racial tensions. As well as on skin colour but also same colour but different nationalities tensions.
However the book made good reading and I really enjoyed it, well thought out and well written. This is one book where you (me) will not feel any empathy with the villains.
Jens Lapidous was a criminal defence lawyer and it is most probable that much of the book comes from his personal experience which makes the book all to believable.
A skilful evocation of the drug/crime-fuelled underbelly (and upper echelons to some extent) of Stockholm. The story does a good job of describing, developing and giving depth to the main protagonists, even if, in the main they are criminally inclined and largely unlikeable because their morality is not that of the law abiding citizen. And yet, the skill of the piece seems to be an attempt to show that most people have glints of goodness in their souls and a desire to do the right thing on occasion, even if base nature prevails and it does all go horribly wrong. The criss-crossing paths of the main characters is very well orchestrated from their introductory chapters all the way to the inevitable denoument(s). An involving, satisfying read.
The influx of immigrants into Scandinavia over the last 25 years or so has provided a rich source of material for crime writers, as the criminal elements amongst the immigrants have gradually taken a large role in organized crime. This fast-moving, but overlong, novel is about the complex interactions between two such groups, and other local criminal gangs, as they maneuver to control a range of illegal enterprises, principally cocaine dealing.
The main characters are: JW, a student; Jorge, a small-time South American drug pusher; an Arab drug dealer who operates on a larger scale; and the Jugo gang, a vicious bunch of Serbian criminals. JW is from a poor background who has infiltrated a set of rich kids in Stockholm and supplies them with cocaine. Later he gets more heavily into the drug supply business when he is recruited by the Arab dealer to extend sales into the public housing estates in the Stockholm suburbs. At the same time he is trying to find out what happened to his sister, who left the family home some years earlier and subsequently disappeared. Jorge is an escapee from prison, but while on the run falls foul of the Jugo gang and is badly beaten up. He is rescued by JW on orders of the Arab, who wants to use his knowledge of the drugs distribution business outside the Stockholm central region. Jorge seeks revenge on the Jugo gang.
This web of subplots becomes even more complicated and probably too intricate, as conflicts arise within the gangs, leading to betrayals and regroupings of the main players. Everything comes together, including learning the fate of JW's sister, in the hectic events of the last few chapters, when the Arabs, JW and Jorge take delivery of a gigantic shipment of cocaine from the UK, which is then high-jacked by a breakaway group from the Jugo gang, only for the police to arrive having received a tip-off from a member of the same gang. Jorge escapes, but the rest are captured, and at the end the boss of the Jugo gang continues to control his criminal organization.
`Easy Money' is not the usual Scandinavian crime novel, where a crime is committed and is solved by a detective with his small team. Here there are many interwoven strands, no named detectives, and the police play almost no role until the last few pages. The action is all between the criminals themselves. The language is also far cruder, violent, and overtly sexual throughout than in those novels. The translation seems to have chosen its use of slang for the American market, but this sounds curiously false in places. There are also errors in the descriptions of locations outside Sweden. Overall, although the complicated plot is quite well structured, the writing is too often deliberately designed shock the reader.
This book was just NOT FOR ME, I hated it!
I have read some Scandinavian crime fiction - Nesbo, Adler-Olsen - and liked what I read - this however I found very hard going. The writing is very "staccato" with quick dialogue and inner thoughts in a gangster style American language translation.
The book has 3 main protagonists - A Chilean (one of the Latinos), A Swede and A Serbian (one of the "Yugos") and there are also Arab connections. I am not sure that this is a typical Swedish mix!!! but maybe I am wrong. I think it might make an interesting film - it is just not easy to read (it does read more like a script) - I struggled to the end so I could write the review - if this had been my own book I would not have bothered to finish it.
The story is told by the different protagonists, each one of them is on the wrong side of the law, and their stories become intertwined. Unlike many crime novels there is No Police or Detective person putting it all together or bringing the "wrong doers" to justice. I just did not feel any empathy with any of the characters - I did not really care what happened to them.
This is the first of a trilogy - I will not be reading the others.
Added 10 January 2012
After posting the review I have discovered that this has been made into a film in Sweden - In Swedish of course - in January 2010 and that the film rights have been bought in America and that an English Language film should be produced soon.
on 15 October 2012
very enjoyable story about crime in stockholm [ understand it was made into a film , that would proberbly work better ] . This is a fast paced tale about coke dealing and criminals ; 3 main characters ; Jorge who is in prison and wants a better life , Mrado who is an eastern european thug and JW who is a student attempting to live a lie keeping up with the rich kids . I really enjoyed how JW became sucked into dealing , his attitude to clothes / money/ status / labels is very brett easton ellis / american psycho , indeed this is a very american style of book . No reference to cinnamon buns or crayfish parties or homely detectives here .